Members of the West Highland Neighborhood Association on Sept. 11 will be asked to join a lawsuit to stop three apartment buildings to be built by RedPeak Properties in the neighborhood.
The WHNA has long been an opponent of the zoning approved by the Denver City Council in June 2010, which allows five-story apartments on parcels along Lowell Boulevard, West Moncrieff Place and Meade Street, in the Highland Square area near Lowell Boulevard and West 32nd Avenue.
RedPeak plans to build a five-story building that would incorporate a portion of the Highlands Church on Lowell, as well as a five-story building on an adjacent parking lot on Meade. It has voluntarily agreed to lower the height on the Moncrieff parcel to four stories. All three parcels are just north of West 32nd Avenue.
Some neighbors contend the buildings are out-of-character with the charming, mostly one-and two-story homes in the neighborhood.
The RedPeak buildings would be about as tall or lower than the Highlands Church. Also, Eden Manor, a 12-story building, has been located about a block east on West 32nd Avenue since the 1960s.
On April 27, the 10 neighbors who are also members of a grassroots group called No High Rises in West Highland, filed a lawsuit against RedPeak. Also named in the lawsuit is group headed by Thomas Wootten that owns the three parcels and the Denver City Council.
Lawyers for RedPeak and Wootten’s group have asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed and that the plaintiffs pay their legal expenses. RedPeak officials declined to comment.
However, if WHNA members vote on Sept. 11 to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff, they should not be liable for any legal costs, said Kevin Neimond, president of the WHNA.
“In the event that the member-sponsored motion is adopted…WHNA is currently working closely with the existing plaintiffs and attorneys to determine if a model can be implemented whereby the association would be supporting the lawsuit non-monetarily,” Neimond said.
“In addition to studying the costs (or lack thereof) associated with supporting the lawsuit, WHNA is also working with the existing plaintiffs and attorneys to ensure that the association (and its board and members) would be not be held financially liable under any circumstances of the lawsuit, should the members choose to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff,” Neimond added.
The meeting will be at 7 p.m at the Highland Events Center, 2945 Julian St. WHNA members asked the board to consider the motion to have the association join the lawsuit in July.
The WHNA adopted a motion last February calling for the rezoning of the parcels to a much lower density. Also last February, a number of residents gathered for a peaceful protest in the heart of West Highland at West 32 Avenue and Lowell. Many carried posters and some wore costumes.
“The goal of WHNA, as the City and County’s recognized representative of the community’s’ residents and property owners, has always been to work with all interested parties in the proposed development to ensure that concerns and questions raised by neighborhood stakeholders are addressed,” Neimond said
“This remains just as much the case today as it was 12 months ago when the potential development was initially announced,” he added.
“Unfortunately, many members of the association continue express concern that efforts to date to identify and address concerns associated with the proposed development have not been heard, or have been discounted, in prior forums,” Neimond continued. “As a result, an alternative solution for elevating the concerns has been identified by several members.”
In February, the WHNA adopted a motion urging Councilwoman Susan Shepherd and her fellow council members to rezone the properties “in accordance with the initial Community Planning and Development mapping, the built environment, the comprehensive plan, and Blue Print Denver.”
The council, however, did not take up the rezoning issue.
If WHNA joins the lawsuit as a plaintiff, it raises a host of “legal and logistical issues for the association,” Neimond said
“Fortunately, many members of the community have stepped up and volunteered their time to sort out issues ranging from organizational and personal liabilities to communication structure for a suit involving a multitude of named plaintiffs,” he said.
Those finding will be presented and discussed at the Sept. 11 meeting. That will include addressing all legal and financial questions, he said. He encouraged anyone with questions they would like addressed to contact the association at firstname.lastname@example.org prior to the meeting.
“This is not a matter that the board or the motion sponsors take lightly,” Neimond added. “It is the board’s and sponsor’s goal that every member in attendance be provided with the facts before they cast a vote. This includes the legal and logistical facts involved if WHNA members do adopt the motion.”
Meanwhile, No High Rises in West Highland has distributed a flyer called Invest in Your Neighborhood! that spells out why it opposes RedPeak’s proposals and asks for financial support for the lawsuit.
“After months of working unsuccessfully with Mayor Hancock, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, and RedPeak Properties to correct the zoning flaws, we ran out of options,” a portion of the flyer states. The flyer said that when Wootten purchased the three parcels in 2007, he requested zoning changes that would allow “far larger buildings than would have been permitted when he purchased the properties,” and the city agreed, providing a “windfall” to Wootten. However, the previous zoning of R-4 allowed up to 75-foot tall buildings on the parcels, or about 6-story buildings.
“As a result, with the support of No Highrises, 10 neighbors most directly affected by this irresponsible zoning and proposed development file Denver District Court,” the flyer continues. “Others may joint the case as it proceeds.”
It goes to say that “We strongly believe that the facts are on our side and that we will prevail on this case.”
Earlier, however, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Curtis R. Henry, told InsideRealEstateNews.com that he thought the lawsuit probably has less than a 49 percent chance of succeeding.
“Our City government must be held accountable for the irresponsible zoning changes that have allowed investors to pursue irresponsible and unsustainable development in the heart of West Highland,” according to the flyer. “Join No Highrises in West Highland and thousands of your neighbors in taking a stand against illegal zoning practices.”
But there is a cost in taking such a stand, the group notes.
“Fighting City Hall is expensive; development interests have deep pockets. Our pockets may. be shallow, but there are lots of us!”
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